Disclaimer: I didn’t even want to write this blog. Only because words simply cannot capture the essence and feelings of human interaction, whether in America or Africa. Words cannot capture a relationship that is complex, that transcends oral communication and cultural barriers. That’s what it’s been like here. I frequently cannot have a conversation past 4 sentences with the people here, but there is still a connection made through eye contact, touch and simply being together. Please read this with a grain of salt—knowing that words cannot capture the things that simply don’t have words to describe it.
I want to thank the Journey Church family (and all other families involved!) for supporting this team—financially, emotionally and spiritually. This place has crawled into my heart and taken over completely. I cannot thank my friends and family enough for supporting me and encouraging me. I love you all with more love than words could ever begin to do justice. This trip has been so much more than simply saying “I’m going to Africa.” That belief and sentence simply demeans all that this trip has been. I have seen how the Ethiopians (Hybasha) are incredibly rich, and I’ve seen things that have broken me to tears, changed my life, my faith and my soul.
First, a summary of today. Today, I met the child that I sponsor. Her name is Debora, and she just turned six. She lives in a town called Holeta, which is 30 minutes outside of Addis Ababa in very beautiful country. It was Brandi, Carly and me in our group that went to the visit. We were hoping to see monkeys like one of the earlier groups did on their visit. The driver and our translator insisted that there were not monkeys on the road that we would be able to see.
When we arrived at the Holeta project, I felt next to tears getting to greet Debora. She was the sweetest, cutest little girl ever and she greeted me with a big fistful of roses. She was so shy at first, but gave me a great big hug. We got a tour of the school and had a very traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. We also got to visit Debora’s home and have more coffee (YUM!). Getting to spend time with Debora today was a very fulfilling experience. I got to sit with her, snuggle with her, hug her, tell her she is beautiful, color pictures with her, and get to know her. Debora’s favorite game is playing dolls, her favorite color is green and her favorite food is pasta. It was difficult to say goodbye after only meeting her for two hours.
And on the way back to Addis Ababa, we got to see monkeys! Very exciting. I almost died by lion attack, but I figured that would be a cool way to die. (Just kidding Mom!)
A few cultural differences in Ethiopia that have stood out to me:
The Hybasha people are incredibly rich in emotion, joy and beauty. Here, the people are so free with their joy. Their joy doesn’t seem dependent upon their health, wealth or material items. I’ve seen people with severe physical ailments that give out more affection, smiles, hugs, kisses, blessings, love and pure joy that I could have ever guessed was possible.
The kids are so full of joy it’s almost tangible. They run up to you and hold your hand, give you kisses and snuggle all the time. They want you to know their name, their age and who their brothers and sisters are. They want to be near you, with you, stare at you and to hold your hand. Most of all the kids want to laugh. They want you to speak Amharic because they want to laugh at your forenge accent (Amharic word for foreigner). They want you to play with them so they can laugh. Even if you do nothing they want to giggle with you.
On top of that, our translators are so full of joy and want to laugh too. It’s hard not to win a smile from them and for them to brighten up your day. I could go on for days about our wonderful translators, but there simply isn’t time or space. Find me at home and ask me.
The Ethiopians are rich in support. Family bonds are strong here. They pray for each other, pay for each other and don’t leave each other behind.
The Ethiopians are affectionate. Being an American, this is a bit weird at first. I was ready to see affection between other people because I’ve seen that in my other travels here too. The people here hold each others hands, lean on each other, touch shoulders in greeting, kiss each others cheeks, stand with their arms around each other, and are overall affectionate. It’s a different story when they want to do that with you too. At first, it’s semi-awkward. But then it began to change my heart. Having our translators put their arm around you while you’re standing there, or having one kid want to walk with you and hold your hand—it’s changed me. It’s so comforting and it’s their way of saying “I want to be with you and I enjoy being next to you.” I’m thankful for this lesson.
The Ethiopians are so free with their emotions. My experience in America is that we don’t want to cry around each other or that we don’t want to “emotionally dump” on each other. Here, they aren’t scared of expressing their emotion. In America, we are so cognitive. We are ruled by our brains, logic, structure and thoughts. Here, there are those things, but they communicate with their heart, their emotion, their facial expressions, and their physical touch. The Hybasha are very engaged emotionally, and their communication frequently has more emotional depth to it than my experiences in America. Perhaps this would change over time the longer I stay here, but initial greeting with people has much emotional engagement.
I know that there are varying views on whether people should help, volunteer, and give to foreign countries. I’ve had many a debate about how there are people in America that need to be helped just as much as people abroad and in Africa need to be helped. That we should be helping at home before we should be helping in Africa. I’m not trying to start up that debate here, nor do I desire to turn anyone away from experiencing a trip like this. However, this trip has had enormous impact on our group and me. I know from group discussion that this trip has possibly changed the course of several of our lives. I can never thank everyone enough for helping us come here. I have much more to say, explain and express about the trip that I would love to sit and talk about with you over a good cup of coffee. (Maybe Ethiopian coffee!)